Rumba – One Step Forward, Two Back

Michael Franks |

There is no right or wrong career path. We all just have our own path. It is unreasonable to assume every move will be perfect.

A few weeks ago I wrote about some good career advice that helped me get launched. Today I would like to talk about some of the mistakes I made.

I worked as an Institutional salesperson in NY in the 90s.  After working for a year and half as a sales assistant I was promoted to a full sales role. I had early success on my own accounts and was partnered on some of the largest accounts at the firm. My responsibilities increased and my income exploded. Everything had been straight up.

A review after my third year in sales was the beginning of my missteps. My manager asked me to be patient. She was working on some things, but due to some tenure and seniority issues my bonus wasn’t going to fully reflect the votes and trades I earned from one of the large accounts. My income was still up nicely year over year, but I was angry. I felt disrespected and decided I would contact a headhunter and start to shop my talents.

I interviewed at several firms over the next few months.  After some more promising opportunities didn’t pan out I bailed anyway. I joined a small startup that was focused on technology.  It was evident early on that I made a mistake.  The talent, capabilities, and opportunities were nowhere near the firm I left. In the next two years the firm almost went out of business, my income was cut in half, and I couldn’t find a new job.

How did this happen? I think hubris was the consistent element that led to me nearly derailing my career. In hindsight here’s what I did wrong:

  • I wasn’t patient – You’ll always need to be our own biggest advocate and look out for your best interest. Companies can be cold, especially when times are tough. You could be laid off at some point in your career at no fault of your own. But this wasn’t the case for me.  My extremely vertical career trajectory had one slight shift. Like a spoiled brat I felt dissed and decided I needed a change.
  • I wasn’t loyal – Loyalty can be tricky in the working world. There are many stories of corporations failing employees, but I was given so many opportunities to succeed. I made the most of my chances, but it wasn’t all me.
  • I lost my mentor – Having a teacher, coach, and friend cannot be under estimated. I was no longer directly reporting to my mentor when I left, but he was still someone that was helping me.  You cannot overestimate the benefits of having important people in your corner.
  • I lost my network – Similar to losing my mentor, I wasn’t aware to the network of support I had developed. It didn’t do it all by myself. It was a team effort.  As salespeople we interacted with analysts and traders all day.  Most of the time we were asking for favors. Having grown up at the company I was one of them. They had my back and were “rooting” for me.  I didn’t realize how long it would take to build credibility at a new firm.  My calls were not returned and favors were left unfulfilled.
  • I jumped for the sake of jumping- Once I decided I was leaving, I just wanted out. I had serious discussion with some big firms but never got to the finish line. In most cases the timing wasn’t right, but we agreed to keep in touch. It didn’t matter. I had mentally committed to leaving, so when an offer came through I took it. I should have done more due diligence.
  • I had poor timing – This wasn’t entirely my fault, but I also failed to realize how much the good timing helped. In the 90s everyone and everything was doing well. My trajectory should have been straight up.  Maybe I wasn’t a superstar. When the bubble burst, hiring froze. It took a lot longer than I ever dreamed to find another job.
  • I let my ego get in the way – A very classy senior manager told me when I left that if it didn’t feel right I should call him and maybe come back. I didn’t feel right but I wouldn’t admit it to myself.  Later on when everyone was jumping ship, I still didn’t reach out to my old firm. I would have been acknowledging that I was wrong to leave.

I started by saying that we all have our own career path. These mistakes are part of mine. I have no idea how my life would be different if I didn’t make this move.   

  • If I stayed put maybe I would have moved into management.  I was already having a challenge balancing work and life.  What would added responsibilities have meant?  What would my marriage and family look like today if I took that path?
  • One of the firms I didn’t go to was Lehman Brothers.  Lehman went through a much publicized bankruptcy in 2008.  What would that have done to my career and savings?
  • The job I took put me in place to witness one of the worst days ever.  That experience has fundamentally changed the way I view everything.  My very existence and purpose.

Hopefully you can take comfort in the fact not all your career moves are expected to be perfect. You’ll make mistakes and be just like the rest of us. The important thing is to try to learn from each step.  And remember very few things are unfixable. I did start over with a new company and had my best career years ever.  I made some more changes a few years later and now I own my own business and love my work. I even get to blog!

Everything may not always seem clear, but own your path. The fun is finding out where it leads you.

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